US conducts semi trade war

China’s goal of producing 70 per cent of the semiconductors it needs by 2025 has just been pushed further out of reach by the Trump administration.

As we first reported, the US commerce department has said exports to China’s biggest chipmaker — Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation — will require licences for specific products. It said exports to SMIC posed an “unacceptable risk” of being diverted to “military end use”, according to a copy of a letter seen by the FT.

This means SMIC will find it more difficult to obtain chipmaking equipment for its production lines from US suppliers such as Applied Materials, Lam Research and KLA. Another key supplier, the Dutch company ASML, has already been unable to obtain a licence to export to SMIC.

Only around 16 per cent of China’s semiconductor needs are currently being matched by domestic production, according to one estimate, and restricted access to equipment capable of making chips at the latest “node” of miniaturisation will inevitably make high-end Chinese products harder to sell abroad.

While the US is making this a national security issue, restrictions on SMIC following those imposed on Huawei clearly relate to competitiveness as well, as the US trails China in 5G and seeks to maintain its leadership in semiconductors that power our smartphones, computers and other devices.

The US chip industry has cause to be worried itself — the equipment suppliers will lose business, Qualcomm chips are made by SMIC and Nvidia is depending on China’s approval for its deal to buy chip designer Arm.

For now, SMIC’s shares are taking the hit — falling 7 per cent on the news on Monday, while US-China trade tensions are being blamed for Japanese memory chip maker Kioxia today postponing what would have been Japan’s biggest IPO this year.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Uber wins London appeal
Uber has been granted a new 18-month licence to operate in London after it satisfied magistrates that it had addressed safety issues raised by Transport for London, which had refused a renewal. Uber still faces a ruling this autumn from the UK’s Supreme Court on whether its drivers should be treated as employees instead of independent contractors.

2. TikTok averts US app ban
A federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from forcing Apple and Google to remove the short-video app from their US stores just hours before they would have been required to implement a ban. TikTok successfully argued this would have been infringing free speech. John Thornhill says President Trump has given his preliminary blessing to what amounts to a cockamamie deal and a botched political shakedown that gives Oracle and Walmart a combined 20 per cent stake in TikTok.

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3. Nikola truck ‘designed in Croatia’
The original design for Nikola’s flagship truck was purchased by founder Trevor Milton from a designer in Croatia, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, despite company claims in a 2018 lawsuit that the vehicle was initially designed by Mr Milton “in his basement”. The truck, the Nikola One, is at the centre of a $2bn lawsuit with Tesla, in which Nikola alleges its rival infringed on its patents.

4. China’s motor show emphasises electric
China’s car market, the world’s biggest, has seen a remarkable post-Covid recovery, according to manufacturers. They are betting on electric vehicles at the annual motor show. Sales make up only 5 per cent of the market currently, but the government has targeted 25 per cent by 2025. Meanwhile, Japan is leading in battery innovation, according to patent filings.

5. UK among cyber superpowers
The UK has developed an offensive cyber capability which can “degrade, disrupt and even destroy” its enemies’ critical infrastructure, said the head of Strategic Command, briefing at a Ministry of Defence cold war-era nuclear bunker. Britain ranks third, behind the US and China, according to a new index of international cyber power.

Tech week ahead

Monday: The next round of hearings in the extradition process for Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou begins in Canada. The US wants Ms Meng to stand trial on charges including fraud linked to the alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran, allegations she denies.

Tuesday: Nasa will launch a new toilet into space.

Wednesday: Two more Silicon Valley tech companies go public, with data analytics specialist Palantir and business To Do list service Asana opting for direct listings. Google will hold its Pixel 5 smartphone launch event. Jack Ma will officially leave the board of Alibaba Last year, Ma stepped down as board chairman and handed the role to Daniel Zhang, who also became CEO.

Thursday: The Next Web’s two-day annual tech conference, usually held in Amsterdam, takes place online.

Tech tools — Roku Streambar

Roku TVs, offering an embedded version of the streaming channels service rather than a separate set-top box or “stick”, came to the UK last Christmas. Now there’s another way to have an integrated experience, with the unveiling today of the £130 Roku Streambar — a soundbar that includes the service. Streaming via an HDMI connection is in up to 4K HDR quality with Dolby Audio sound from the four speakers and a voice-enabled remote supplied. Techcrunch reports an update in the US at the same time for its $99 Ultra box, with up to 50 per cent more wireless range and the addition of Bluetooth support, which means you’ll be able to pair your smartphone with the device in order to stream music or other audio to the TV.